By Patrick Hruby
The Washington Times
May 27, 2012
The woman approached. Dressed in jeans and a floppy hat, flowers bunched under his arm, Mr. Penaherrera asked if she would like to decorate a grave.
“This is really wonderful,” the woman said. “My husband sent me roses on the day he was born.”
Mr. Penaherrera was confused. How could he … “It took me a second to realize what she was saying,” he said. “She was going to put flowers on the grave of her son. That’s pretty powerful.”
A 57-year old who grew up in Washington, Mr. Penaherrera is the founder of Memorial Day Flowers, an organization that distributes donated flowers to visitors at Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries around the country.
On Memorial Day, more than 100 local volunteers will hand out 50,000 Ecuadorean roses and 1,000 red, white and blue flower bouquets at four Arlington locations, including Section 60, one of the burial areas for soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Last year, Mr. Penaherrera and 15 volunteers gave out 10,000 roses at the cemetery, which, according to a spokesperson, typically hosts about 75,000 visitors over the holiday weekend.
Some flower recipients offered spontaneous hugs. Others offered money, which the volunteers refused. A few visitors spontaneously told their stories. One man, Mr. Penaherrera recalled, simply repeated, “My buddy,” over and over, visibly stricken with grief.
Anita Bemis-Dougherty, an Alexandria-based physical therapist, was on hand to visit the graves of her parents and uncle, all of whom served in the military. She initially thought the roses were for the families of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and approached a volunteer to offer thanks; when the volunteer said she could take a flower home, she nearly cried.
Lin Schmale, a volunteer and flower industry lobbyist, said the memory of the day still moves her to tears.
“It was so touching to see how appreciative people were of being handed a flower, just having it in their hands, and how much it really meant to them,” said Ms. Schmale, senior director of government relations for the Society of American Florists. “We want them to have something beautiful that they can put on a grave, something that hopefully makes a very sad experience feel a bit better.”
Read the full article at the Washington Times